John Fleming, the Chairman of the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s Board of Governors and former Executive Vice President of Global Manufacturing and Labor Affairs at the Ford Motor Co., makes an important point about Manufacturing 4.0.

Fleming says that while manufacturing leaders should be excited about the potential of the M4.0 digital model, there is still plenty of room for improvement in the fundamentals of the manufacturing process. “Maybe we are doing ourselves a bit of a disservice by building up M4.0 so much,” Fleming told a manufacturing conference in Chicago in October of last year. “Let’s start with basic improvements and go from there.”

A couple of articles in this issue of the Journal, whose theme is Next-Generation Leadership, one of the ML Council’s Critical Issues facing manufacturing, build upon Fleming’s admonition.

In “5 Leadership Tips for the Digital Era”, Protolabs’ CEO Vicki Holt, who is also a member of the ML Council’s Board of Governors, writes that next-generation manufacturing leaders need to be guided by a mix of traditional and modern thinking around vision, culture, talent management, operational agility, and, most importantly, trust.

And in “Back to Basics”, MIT manufacturing professor David Hardt says next-generation leaders need to master the fundamentals underlying manufacturing, including how material and product flows through the manufacturing operation and supply chain. “To be a good decision-maker in manufacturing, a person has to master the core principles that determine how to apply [new] technologies under uncertain conditions,” he says.

Hardt’s point about the manufacturing process itself is an important one to consider within the context of M4.0. One of the lessons that manufacturing companies learned in the heyday of ERP adoption 20 years ago, some the hard way, was that the application of new technology will not fix a bad process. To get maximum results from a new technology, a company should examine and rethink a process before automating it.

So as manufacturing companies go about IP-enabling their plant floor equipment, digitizing their supply chains, and automating production in more extensive ways, they will be well served to first think about the fundamentals of their manufacturing processes. It could save many things in the end.    M